There was a man who thought he was dead. In fact, he told all his family members that he was dead. Finally, after months of being unable to convince him, they dragged him to a doctor. The doctor, also unsuccessful, finally asked him, “Do dead men bleed?” The man responded, “Of course not!” The doctor promptly took out a knife and cut the man’s finger, and as the man watched the blood run down his hand he exclaimed, “Wow! I guess dead men do bleed!”
This man had presuppositions he brought with himself to that doctor’s appointment. He believed that he was dead and no evidence was going to change his mind. In a similar way, every one of our evangelistic encounters happen with someone who has preconceived notions and presuppositions.
Understanding why people don’t believe the Gospel is key. Either they lack the evidence and are just waiting for the perfect argument to come along or they are blinded by their sin and need the Gospel. As believers, we are called to make a defense. 1 Peter 3:15 gives us our calling. Peter says,
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”
This verse gives us three keys on how to do apologetics that we should apply in our everyday conversations as we “make a defense” with unbelievers.
First, make a defense that honors Christ as holy.
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…
Honoring Christ is our priority in evangelism and apologetics. Too many times we are concerned with honoring the unbeliever, and sometimes, when we are so focused on this, we end up dishonoring Christ.
One way we dishonor Christ is by not trusting what the Bible says about unbelievers. The Bible tells us in Romans 1 that all men know God exists but suppress the truth in unrighteousness. As we talk to unbelievers, we should not grant to them that they do not believe in God. I’m not saying that we should point at them and scream “liar.” But we must gently and carefully, but boldly, show them in Scripture that the Bible says that all men believe but suppress the truth because they love their sin. When someone says that they would believe in God if they could only have some evidence, we know that, biblically, this simply isn’t true. The Bible is the only evidence that people need. Whether it is Romans 10:17, or the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the Bible proclaims itself to be the only evidence people need in order to have faith. Jesus, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, goes as far as saying that a resurrection wouldn’t be enough to convince someone. The Bible is enough, and it is the only power unto salvation. Besides, presenting evidence to an atheist would mean that you are the lawyer, they are the judge and jury, and the judge of the universe–God, Himself–is on trial! That is flipped, messed up, and dishonoring to Christ.
Another way we dishonor Christ is by the way we talk about the Bible. Saying things like “if the Bible is true,” or “I could be wrong,
or “give Jesus a try!” may seem humble, but, ultimately, they dishonor Christ by acting as if it isn’t certain that He is the Son of God and the only way to Heaven.
A third way we dishonor Christ is by thinking that our words will convince unbelievers of the existence of God. Whether it is through our persuasion, or thinking that we can come up with the perfect evidence, when we go away from Scripture we are trusting in our own devices. We are practically saying that we can reason someone to believe in God, when Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:25 that it is God who must grant someone repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth. First comes repentance, which is granted by God Himself, then comes truth, in that exact order. People don’t need reason, they need repentance.
Second, make a defense for the hope that is in you
…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…
Something happened to you that has transformed you. You actually believe in absolute truth. There is no question in your mind that Jesus is God. There is no question in your mind that you will spend eternity in Heaven with Him. You are ready for the Day of Judgment, and are not afraid to die.
On the other hand, unbelievers don’t have this hope. They have constant doubt. Their salvation is dependent on the way they live. They have no idea whether God will accept them one day. They are not ready for the Day of Judgment, and most are afraid to die, or at least they should be. Most question the idea of absolute truth.
Most atheists out there know only one thing for sure: that there is no such thing as absolute truth. When you ask them if that is absolutely true, they say yes. They live in what is called an infinite regress. A is true because of B. B is true because of C. C is true because of D and so forth. This doesn’t end at Z, but continues on in infinity. In other words, they can’t know anything. The only way to solve this regress is if you know the One who can see the whole thing. That is God, Himself, who knows all things and can let us know some things for certain. God has done this with general and special revelation. On top of that God has given you supernatural faith, and you can make a defense because you have the hope that He’s given you. Your evangelism and apologetics should reflect this.
Third, make a defense with gentleness and respect.
…yet do it with gentleness and respect.
I wrote a lot about this last week. But I cannot stress enough the fact that our words should reflect the transformation that has happened in us. You simply cannot be a jerk and get angry in evangelism. Believers exhibit the fruit of the spirit not only while speaking to other believers, but especially in talking with unbelievers. Stephen, while being martyred in Acts 7, is an incredible example of gentleness, calmness, and forgiveness. Of course, Jesus is our Master Teacher of how to face persecution in a way that exalts God.
There was a pastor who went to visit a student on a college campus. This student wanted the pastor to talk to his roommate. The roommate, upon seeing the pastor, immediately stated, “I could never believe in a book that says that a man survived after being swallowed by a whale!” The pastor wisely asked if he could just share his testimony and tell him what the Gospel was. The roommate says yes, and after about an hour he trusted in the Lord and was saved. About two hours later, the pastor remembered his initial objection and asked him if he wanted to talk about Jonah. The young man replied, “I guess not. If it’s in the Bible I believe it.”
The young man had an issue with God’s Word because he loved his sin. The minute he repented, he instantly trusted the Truth. A lot of times in our evangelism, we can put our trust in our methods instead of putting our trust in the Lord to do the work of saving souls. We must remember to honor Christ in our evangelism.
Apologetics is a wonderful tool that the Lord has used to encourage so many believers in their walk. But, ultimately, it is a powerless tool to bring someone to Christ. It can be a tool God uses to open an ear to the Gospel, but on its own it cannot save. We must always remember to preach the Gospel and to quote Scripture as we do so. As Paul says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”